What kind of maths do electrical engineers use?

Thread Starter

Mooney117

Joined May 27, 2020
10
Hey everyone,

So I'm 15 and I really want to become an electrical engineer and was just interested in what kind of maths they use day to day because surely they don't use EVERY topic that they were taught in high school?

Thanks,
 

crutschow

Joined Mar 14, 2008
25,423
Not necessarily.
But you need to learn about all the topics so you will know which math to use for a particular problem.
Math is the language of engineering.
If you don't like math than engineering is not for you.
 

Tonyr1084

Joined Sep 24, 2015
5,070
I hated math. But love engineering.

But engineering doesn't love me back. So I muddle through with some of the more basic tasks. Like deciding on how much concrete I need to buy for a given area consisting of a radius of 152" @ 41˚ and a 36" by 120" rectangle to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. Took 24 bags of 80 Lb sacks of ready mix concrete. Nearly a ton.
1598287491787.png
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
21,869
I am an engineer and I have had occasion to use every math topic they ever thought me in high school at 'O' Level and 'A' Level and beyond.

Arithmetic
Algebra
Geometry
Trigonometry
Vectors

After that you need to learn:
Calculus
Differential Equations
Complex Numbers
Laplace Transforms
Fourier Transforms

Don't set up limitations to your knowledge and potential.
 

KeithWalker

Joined Jul 10, 2017
1,222
In highschool I learned the basics of arithmetic, algebra and geometry and calculus. In university I was taught probability, Fourier transforms, Laplace transforms, and hyperbolic functions. I have used them all in different applications since then.
In highschool I really struggled to understand calculus because it was taught as theoretical subject, with no association to using it to solve real practical problems. It wasn't until very many years later when I was writing some vibration analysis software that it finally clicked. I was converting frequency domain data from acceleration to velocity and back and suddenly realized the I was doing integration and differentiation that they had tried to teach me in the calculus lessons..
The bottom line is:
Get to understand the functionality and application of as many different branches of math that you can. You don't need to be able to derive proofs or remember formulas. You just need to recognize what to use when and how to apply it. The rest is available on-line or in your scientific calculator.
Regards,
Keith

P.S. We didn't have computers and calculators when I was in university. We had slide-rules and log tables.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,148
The bedrock foundational topic for nearly everything else is algebra. Understand and become proficient with algebra. After that, differential and integral calculus are keystone topics for much of what will follow. You also need a strong grounding in trigonometry. Geometry is, perhaps, less "important" but still quite valuable. Probability and statistics will likely be important, but for most practicing engineers is a lower-tier topic (while for others it is the bread and butter of what they do day in and day out).

If you can, get some linear algebra under your belt while you are in high school (that may not be much of an option where you are).
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
14,412
After two Master's degrees (EE and Finance) I like to say that I have forgotten more Mathematics than most people have an opportunity to learn.
 

kubeek

Joined Sep 20, 2005
5,733
I have studied highschool optional algebra and some calculus, and then pased university calculus, linear algebra and matrices, discrete algebra, some laplace transformations, and probably a lot more math subjects than I remember. Out of that, more than 10 years out of university, being able to make a simple equation and being able to find X is mostly the pinnacle. Unles your work is some research department where you need a lot of theory, you will find that science papers and google results will almost always show you the simplified equation so that you can use it.

From my point of view, what I use from all my studies is the general knowledge: to have a broad understanding of all the topics that exist, even just by name and purpose: that you can do some furier transform on a filter and get a neat transfer funnction, or that you in theory you can calculate the stability of a feedback loop. I knew these from university, but only in theory. Never did I calculate these by hand, but have the idea that there is some intuitive relation, and also that there probably exists some simulation that can help you without complicated equations.
There are programs where if you can put together the starting equation, they can give you the answer in algebraic form, not just for one special case. So just try learning what you are given, and just remember the principle and purpose, you can always get back to that even if you remeber nothing from the mechanics of the actual computation.
 

OBW0549

Joined Mar 2, 2015
3,551
So I'm 15 and I really want to become an electrical engineer and was just interested in what kind of maths they use day to day because surely they don't use EVERY topic that they were taught in high school?
I got my EE degree in 1978 and since then, I've used nearly every flavor of mathematics mentioned by others above, at one time or another.

Difficulty arises when some things are used so infrequently they are forgotten (many times, in my case); when that happens, you'll have to fall back on that other thing you learn at university: how to teach yourself.
 

BobaMosfet

Joined Jul 1, 2009
1,208
Hey everyone,

So I'm 15 and I really want to become an electrical engineer and was just interested in what kind of maths they use day to day because surely they don't use EVERY topic that they were taught in high school?

Thanks,
Don't be afraid of math. Math seems scary, but it's not. It's actually really cool. If you want to be an effective engineer, you want to be reasonably good at math. Everything non-calculus is linear - aka 'on a line', whereas calculus is used for in-exact things, relational things where it isn't exact, it just has to be close-enough- like real-world stuff.

It depends on what field of engineering you want to be in- but if you want to be an electronics engineer, and even designer, you want all the math you can get. You're 15- you are at the right time. Talk to your teachers, ask them to help you figure out what way you learn best- visually, aurally, etc- and then spend time with your math teachers to try to understand. I promise you, if they are worth their weight as a teacher, they will spend as much time with you as you need, if you are motivated to learn. You will *NEVER* have a better time than now, to learn things.

If you can master basic math, algebra I/II, trig and geometry, you'll be where you want to be to launch. Don't let it scare you. Engineering is about applied sciences. Not theoretical. Applied sciences mean you work with real-world elements and problems and solve them. And I promise you, that if you get to trig and geometry and are comfortable with math, then you will be able to solve problems in both electronics and in programming if you do that as well, that your peers will not be able to do- and you will solve problems more elegantly.

Here are some books that will help you:

Title: Understanding Basic Electronics, 1st Ed.
Publisher: The American Radio Relay League
ISBN: 0-87259-398-3

and

Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide (Big Fat Notebooks) [Print Replica] Kindle Edition
by Workman Publishing (Author), Ouida Newton (Editor), Altair Peterson (Contributor) Format: Kindle Edition
 

Tesla23

Joined May 10, 2009
406
Hey everyone,

So I'm 15 and I really want to become an electrical engineer and was just interested in what kind of maths they use day to day because surely they don't use EVERY topic that they were taught in high school?

Thanks,
If you already really enjoy maths then just explore any topic that takes your fancy that you enjoy - it will come easy then.

If you don't enjoy the maths you are currently doing, then try to find some you do - you will develop and hone your skills much better if you can find something that you enjoy. There are lots of problem solving resources out there: e.g.
https://artofproblemsolving.com/
khan academy etc..
 

DarthVolta

Joined Jan 27, 2015
509
Basic algebra
Trigonometry
Algebra of linear systems of equations/algebra of vector spaces/algebra of the plane, complex numbers/group theory
Calculus
Differential equations

At the end of the day, it still boils down to Ordering, additive identity elements, multiplicative identify elements, inverse operations, limits, rates of change


And if you're like me, I did this stuff for fun as a kid, and now I'm back doing this stuff for fun/work. So it's NOT WORK...but of course it is.

And what I find most annoying about any book/text/pdf on any of this, is when they skip too many steps, and don't derive stuff, or say where it came from, or what filled in the steps.

But I get lazy too, and life is only so long, so I skip stuff too. Truth is, no one can ever know all there is to know anymore, thankfully Humans have learned so much.

So don't worry if you don't know it all.
 

MisterBill2

Joined Jan 23, 2018
7,021
Initially you need algebra and trig to get through the classes in the first years of college, Then you do need to understand calculus. Then you need to understand the math that goes with the physics. The trig is what works with vectors, which are important if you ever need to work with forces of any kind. Than an amazing thing happened. In an actual engineering system doing real world stuff much of it became regular basic four-function math. When adding a safety factor calculus and integration reduce to geometry and multiplication. We never made machines that were "only just" strong enough, because those ones never were "strong enough", and they would break. Of course none of us ever designed consumer junk products, it was always things that were not allowed to fail. When reliability matters most the world is much different than when minimum cost to produce is the king.
If you want to work for NASA that might be a bit different because the time frame is slower and the budgets are greater and any failure is huge and seen by the whole world, live and on replay.
And aside from all that an engineer needs to be able to communicate accurately and cleanly with no chance of errors. So an adequate vocabulary and great communication skills are important.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
21,869
I flunked English twice which I needed to pass before I could be admitted to university.
Now much later in life I have come to realize that communication skills are much more important than math.

Therefore, do all the math courses required of you to take. Work hard, play hard, but above all, work on improving your communication skills, both written and oral.
 

DickCappels

Joined Aug 21, 2008
6,590
Initially you need algebra and trig to get through the classes in the first years of college, Then you do need to understand calculus. Then you need to understand the math that goes with the physics. The trig is what works with vectors, which are important if you ever need to work with forces of any kind. Than an amazing thing happened. In an actual engineering system doing real world stuff much of it became regular basic four-function math. When adding a safety factor calculus and integration reduce to geometry and multiplication. We never made machines that were "only just" strong enough, because those ones never were "strong enough", and they would break. Of course none of us ever designed consumer junk products, it was always things that were not allowed to fail. When reliability matters most the world is much different than when minimum cost to produce is the king.
If you want to work for NASA that might be a bit different because the time frame is slower and the budgets are greater and any failure is huge and seen by the whole world, live and on replay.
And aside from all that an engineer needs to be able to communicate accurately and cleanly with no chance of errors. So an adequate vocabulary and great communication skills are important.
Take all the required math you can and do as well as you can but it you are not great don't despair.

At one time several engineers and a technician met around a table in the company cafeteria to discuss possible solutions to an interface problem on a consumer product. As we went around the table, searching for some elegance if possible, I sketched up a schematic of the emerging solution, then I passed it across the table to one of the highest-rated engineers in the group- paid way above average (I know because I was in the salary review meetings :) and I passed along the schematic of a simple opamp and low pass filter circuit I said "Fill in the values and [name of technician] can put it together for testing." He looked at it and said "I don't do that." It turned out he didn't have any idea of how to figure the values necessary for the low pass filter and amplifier to work.

This guy was very smart and very nice but his skills were in communicating and persuasion. He was technically competent in most aspects of his job but when it came to analog design (our part of the business was multi-faceted and was dependent upon analog performance) he just "did not do it".

He was great at writing specifications and coaxing vendors to cooperate, even convincing vendors to adopt new technologies, and you know, always up for a game of golf during office hours :).

The point is that math is not THE only skill needed in the engineering profession. Many EE jobs these days, particularly (today) outside China do not require actual design but the ability to facilitate the design process or the manufacturing process and when at a senior level, steer designs in the proper direction.

Remember that what you are seeking today will be replaced by new goals tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow....
 
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